Jiu-Jitsu training arms Orange County Sheriff's Office with alternatives to deadly force
Those YouTube videos that show five or six officers struggling to arrest someone are misleading, Orange County Sheriff’s Investigator Jon Daniel said.
“That’s not really the case,” he said. “It was five or six people in each other’s way, everyone pulling in different directions, doing different things, instead of having a uniform program or technique that they could say this is how we’re going to do it, and everyone be on the same page.”
A recent weeklong Gracie Survival Tactics course introduced about 65 Orange, Durham and Wake county police and sheriff’s deputies, along with state, national and international officers, to a new way of approaching volatile situations without resorting to a weapon.
Ryron Gracie, the grandson of Grand Master Helio Gracie, who created Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, helped lead the course, which Orange County Sheriff Charles Blackwood called “the best training, the best equipment and the best knowledge all rolled into one.”
The Brazilian martial arts style is rooted in the traditional Japanese Jiu-Jitsu style that Gracie’s uncle Carlos Gracie learned as a child from a business visitor to the country. Carlos taught his brother Helio Gracie, who modified the techniques to accommodate his frail frame and gain an advantage against larger opponents.
The family would arrange competitions to try out the new moves, refining them for safety and effectiveness based on the results. Helio Gracie’s son Rorion Gracie, a self-defense expert, brought Gracie Jiu-Jitsu to the United States in 1978 and began to teach others.
The Gracie family continues to teach its techniques and principles to military, law enforcement and people around the world, said Sunny Yu, a course instructor who owns the Gracie Durham Jiu Jitsu Academy and also teaches jiu-jitsu at UNC Chapel Hill.
“We teach it in a way for someone with no experience to be able to learn it,” Yu said.
Yu previously had taught Gracie Survival Tactics — a specialized military and law enforcement program — to a few interested deputies back in 2015, after talking with Daniel, his longtime friend, about the situations officers were encountering.
Most fights end up on the ground, Daniel said, and one of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu’s best tools is maintaining control once you get there. The most vulnerable position for an officer to be is on his back on the ground, he said.
“Something they focused on was this is not a replacement for your tools,” Daniel said. “If they’re obeying the (verbal) commands, then it’s not necessary to jump in and start manhandling, but it does give you better techniques once you have to put your hands on them. A lot of it dealt with if they attack you.”
Yu said the Gracie Jiu-Jitsu training is successful, because it’s based on real-life problems, with techniques that evolve based on professional feedback.
That’s not always the training standard, said Daniel, who called Gracie Jiu-Jitsu the logical next step in Blackwood’s focus on safety and training. Deputies also have learned Verbal Judo, a method for talking down tense situations, and a real-time, computer-simulated course covering multiple scenarios, from a lone gunman to a coordinated attack.
Having another safe, effective technique is critical at a time when officers are under public scrutiny for how they use force, Blackwood said.
“There’s a lot of stuff being written about law enforcement in the nation right now, but not a lot of people are taking the time to see the work that we’re doing as a whole to fix what have been identified as the problems. This is probably the best tool we’ve ever put in our box,” he said.
Yu said he doesn’t always get that reception from law enforcement.
“I’m really happy to have sheriffs like Blackwood,” he said. “I’ve talked to a lot of sheriffs, I’ve talked to a lot of chiefs, and they’re not on the same page. If they close the door on you, it’s not a surprise.”
In the end, Daniel said, they want to equip deputies with the training to handle any situation and keep everyone safe.
“Most of the time when you encounter someone, it’s a bad day, bad situation, things are not as they normally would be,” he said. “We’re not out to hurt people, that’s not our goal. We just want to protect you.”